Paper Moon (film)

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Paper Moon
Paper-moon small.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Produced by Frank Marshall
Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent
Based on Addie Pray
1971 novel 
by Joe David Brown
Starring Ryan O'Neal
Tatum O'Neal
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited by Verna Fields
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • May 9, 1973 (1973-05-09)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.5 million[1]
Box office $30,933,743[2]

Paper Moon is a 1973 American comedy-drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and released by Paramount Pictures. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent adapted the script from the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown. The film, shot in black-and-white, is set in Kansas and Missouri during the Great Depression. It stars the real-life father and daughter pairing of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, as Moze and Addie, who may be father and daughter.


Con man Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) meets 9-year-old Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal) at Addie's mother's graveside service. Because Moses is one of many men who had a relationship with her mother (and because the girl "has his jaw"), there is speculation that he is a relative and possibly Addie's father, which he denies. However, Moses is reluctantly persuaded to deliver the orphaned Addie to her aunt's home in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The pair stop at a local grain mill and Moses convinces the brother of the man who drove his car into a tree, killing Addie's mother, to give him two hundred dollars for the newly orphaned Addie. Addie overhears this conversation and, after seeing Moses spend nearly half the money fixing up his used Model A convertible, later demands the money. Moses agrees to travel with Addie until he has raised two hundred dollars to give to her. Addie soon learns how Moses makes his money: he visits recently widowed women, pretending he is a Bible salesman who recently sold an expensive, personalized Bible to the deceased husband. The widows usually pay him the claimed "balance owed" for the bibles inscribed with their names. Addie joins in the scam, pretending she is his daughter, and exhibits a talent for confidence tricks. As time passes, Moses and Addie become a formidable team and seem to forget about Addie joining her aunt.

One night, Addie and "Moze" (as Addie now refers to him) stop at a local carnival, where Moze becomes enthralled with an "exotic dancer" named Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn). Moze puts off joining Addie at a photo booth in favor of spending time with Miss Trixie, disappointing Addie. Addie has her photograph taken sitting on a crescent moon by herself. Much to Addie's chagrin, Moze invites "Miss Trixie"—and her downtrodden, 15-year-old black maid, Imogene (P.J. Johnson)—to join him and Addie on their way. Although Addie becomes friends with Imogene, she becomes jealous of how Moze begins to focus more and more of his attention on the gold-digging Miss Trixie. When Addie subsequently discovers that Moze has spent all of their money on a brand-new car to impress Miss Trixie, she quickly devises a plan to get rid of her, which includes giving Imogene enough money to get back home to her mother. An elaborate series of maneuvers on Addie's and Imogene's part results in Moze catching Miss Trixie in bed with another man. Devastated, Moze leaves Miss Trixie and Imogene behind.

At a hotel in Kansas, Moze is able to find a bootlegger's store of whiskey, steals some of it, and sells it back to the bootlegger. Unfortunately, the bootlegger's brother is the sheriff, who quickly arrests Moze and Addie. Addie hides their money, steals back the key to their car, and the pair escape, trading their new car for an old, used Model T farm truck after Moze beats a hillbilly in a "wrasslin' match." The pair then makes their way across the state line to Missouri, where the Kansas law can't follow them. The sheriff finds them in Missouri, and unable to arrest Moze, he and his cohorts chase, beat and rob him. Humiliated, Moze drops Addie at her aunt's house in St Joseph.

Back on the road, Moze stops to let his overheating truck cool down and discovers the envelope that Addie left for him in the truck. Inside is the photo of her sitting by herself on the crescent moon at the carnival. As he contemplates the photo, he glances into the rear-view mirror and sees a small figure running toward the stopped truck. It is Addie; she has fled her aunt's house and hopes to rejoin Moze. Angry, Moze tells Addie that he does not want her traveling with him any more. She matter-of-factly reminds him that he still owes her two hundred dollars, and they drive off together.




The film project was originally associated with John Huston and was to star Paul Newman and his daughter, Nell Potts. However, when Huston left the project, the Newmans became dissociated from the film as well.[3] Peter Bogdanovich had just completed What's Up, Doc? and was looking for another project when his ex-wife and frequent collaborator Polly Platt recommended filming Joe David Brown's script for the novel Addie Pray. Bogdanovich, a fan of period films, and having two young daughters of his own, found himself drawn to the story, and selected it as his next film.[4]


At the suggestion of Polly Platt, Bogdanovich approached eight-year-old Tatum O'Neal to audition for the role although she had no acting experience. Bogdanovich had recently worked with Tatum's father Ryan O'Neal on What's Up, Doc?, and decided to cast them as the leads.[4]


Various changes were made in adapting the book to film. Addie's age was reduced from twelve to nine to accommodate young Tatum, several events from the book were combined for pacing issues, and the last third of the novel, when Moses and Addie graduate to the big leagues as con artists after going into partnership with a fake millionaire, was dropped. The location was also changed from the rural south of the novel – primarily Alabama – to midwestern Kansas and Missouri.[4]

Filming locations[edit]

The film was shot in the small towns of Hays, Kansas; McCracken, Kansas; Wilson, Kansas; and St. Joseph, Missouri. Various shooting locations include the Midland Hotel at Wilson, Kansas; the railway depot at Gorham, Kansas; storefronts and buildings on Main Street in White Cloud, Kansas; Hays, Kansas; sites on both sides of the Missouri River; Rulo Bridge; and Saint Joseph, Missouri.


The car Moses buys after he agrees to take Addie home is a 1930 Ford Model A convertible; the car Moses buys to impress Miss Trixie is a 1936 Ford V8 De Luxe convertible.[5] The whiskey being sold by the bootlegger shown toward the end of the film is Three Feathers blended whiskey, a label introduced by Oldtyme Distilling Corp. in 1882 and still produced up to the 1980s.[6] The fruit-flavored soda drunk by Addie is from Nehi Soda, a company founded in 1924, which became Royal Crown Company... then Dr Pepper/Snapple !


Peter Bogdanovich also decided to change the name of the film from Addie Pray. While selecting music for the film, he heard the song It's Only a Paper Moon (by Billy Rose, Yip Harburg, and Harold Arlen). Seeking advice from his close friend and mentor Orson Welles, Bogdanovich listed Paper Moon as a possible alternative. Welles responded – "That title is so good, you shouldn't even make the picture, you should just release the title!"[4]

Cinematography and editing[edit]

Director of photography László Kovács used a red filter on the camera on Orson Welles' advice. Bogdanovich also used deep focus cinematography and extended takes in the film.[4]


The movie earned an estimated $13 million in North American theater rentals in 1973.[7]


It currently holds a 90% approval rating from critics, based on 22 reviews, at Rotten Tomatoes. While Vincent Canby of the New York Times found the juxtaposition of the saccharin-sweet plot with Laszlo Kovacs' stark black-and-white images of Depression-era poverty unsettling,[8] Roger Ebert, who gave the film his top rating, found the mix to be the film's greatest virtue.[9]


Tatum O'Neal won the 1973 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Addie, making her, at age 10, the youngest competitive winner in the history of the Academy Awards. Co-star Madeline Kahn was also nominated for the same award. The film itself was nominated for Best Sound (Richard Portman, Les Fresholtz)[10] and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alvin Sargent). Tatum O'Neal was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Ryan O'Neal was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Other media[edit]

In September 1974, a television series called Paper Moon, based on the film, premiered on the ABC television network, with Jodie Foster cast as Addie and Christopher Connelly (who had appeared as O'Neal's brother in the earlier ABC series, Peyton Place) playing Moses. It was not a ratings success and the series was canceled after four months.


  1. ^ PHOTOS IN 5 MINUTES: 39 BOGDANOVICH Clifford, Terry. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 07 Jan 1973: i39.
  2. ^ "Paper Moon, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2012-01-17. 
  3. ^ Jeff Stafford, Paper Moon, Turner Classic Movies article, October 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e Bogdonavitch, Peter. Paper Moon (Special Features) (DVD). 1973: Paramount Pictures. 
  5. ^ The Internet Movie Car Database: Entry for Paper Moon
  6. ^ TIME Magazine Liquor: The Schenley Reserves Monday, September 29, 1952.
  7. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
  8. ^ Canby review
  9. ^ Ebert review
  10. ^ "The 46th Academy Awards (1974) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-02. 

External links[edit]